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South African diplomacy: Challenges as opportunities

Klaus Kotzé

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Under President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa is seeking to regain the respect and authority it held in its early years of democracy. Its diplomacy is undertaking creative avenues to recapture influence and steer public persuasion, especially regarding Africa. Its embrace of challenges as opportunities suggests strategic urgency. 

In early September a wave of violence spilled over the streets of South Africa’s Gauteng province. In many reported cases the targets of the mob were small businesses owned by foreign, mainly African, nationals. The incidents quickly became labelled as xenophobia and follow similar intermittent incidents over the last decade which have tarnished South Africa’s image and influence, especially in Africa. This episode has been the first of its kind under the Presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa. Government’s response to the situation presents several insights that guide understanding of South Africa’s renewed approach to international diplomacy, notably regarding Africa.

A tarnished image

The reasons for the recent violence are complex and diverse. As in previous episodes, legitimate disquiet surrounding national concerns became hijacked by vigilantes; combustible national conditions sparked. These events played out in the days leading up to the World Economic Forum Africa. The Cape Town-based event attracts influential African and international guests. It is a carefully constructed South African exhibition to attract and persuade investor confidence. Instead of curating an appealing image, South Africa was smeared in the press and by African dignitaries. Nigeria publicly rebuked South Africa and boycotted the event. In supposed retaliation, a number of South African franchises in Nigeria were looted. While there was no proof that Nigerians were specifically targetted, Abuja retorted with unprecedented threats, dramatically escalating tensions between Africa’s two largest economies. Early signs of a continental challenge for supremacy are surfacing. Nigeria’s Foreign Minister warned that it “will take definitive measures to ensure safety and protection of her citizens…we are hoping to see the possibility of sending some security agents”. Hundreds of Nigerian citizens were repatriated from South Africa through the efforts of local airline, Air Peace.

Regaining control

Pretoria’s response to domestic and continental animosity has been instructive. After the events in Gauteng, Pretoria has set out to appropriate attention through a charm offensive aimed at regaining control of the national narrative. Its international diplomacy has taken on the frank, proactive approach that is proving to be symptomatic of the new government. It has spoken out against criminality and violence; Ramaphosa has insisted that “South Africans are not xenophobic, not against nationals from other countries, we welcome people from other countries”. Instead, Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, has said that the media has misrepresented the violence as xenophobic and “is very keen to keep this impression alive”. Pandor’s indictment against the media moves to close the forensic argument by instructively detailing the programmes that the government is implementing to address lawlessness and illegal migration. Significantly, the transformation here is from reacting to leading; through specifics, government takes authoritative control over the shaping of the story.

Pandor used her recent address to the United Nations General Assembly to atypically atone for domestic actions. Pandor made South Africa’s repudiation of intolerance the focus of her speech. She berated “the incidents of violence and looting… (as)regrettable and shameful for a nation with such as proud history of struggle and international solidarity support. The government of South Africa strongly condemned these actions and is working harder to insuring we address the security lapses…South Africa has an unwavering commitment to our continent, Africa”. This confession of guilt suggests Pretoria’s urgency to win over Africa. The rejection of intolerance forms part of a positive message that attracts continental endorsement.

Steering the story

Both Ramaphosa and Pandor recognize the breakdown in law and order as an opportunity to lead. This is a key approach that the new government has adopted. Instead of averting tensions, it has sought to shape perceptions. A day after water cannons and stun grenades dispersed crowds protesting against criminality and Gender-Based Violence outside the World Economic Forum Africa, Ramaphosa called off his address to the Forum to speak to the protesters as they gathered outside Parliament. His symbolic performance did not simply reject the Forum. It proved his authority and sense of urgency. He allayed the protesters, declaring ‘enough is enough’, a key slogan of the crowd. That evening, on national television, he proposed several interventions and called for a rare special sitting of both houses of Parliament to debate the issues in their seriousness. Throughout his communications, Ramaphosa employs ethos and pathos appeals, seizing opportunities for persuasion. At the funeral of controversial former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, Ramaphosa seemingly changed his speech after being booed by the audience. Referring to the violence directed at foreign nationals, some of whom were Zimbabwean, he offered “a national apology…on behalf of the people of South Africa for what has happened over the last few weeks”. After expressing his remorse the crowd’s jeers turned to cheers.

Strategic positioning

Ramaphosa’s government is positioning itself favourably in order to advance its public diplomacy, especially on the continent. Following the attacks on African nationals, Ramaphosa announced his dispatch of high ranking envoys to a number of African countries. Pretoria’s unprecedented charge to promote social cohesion and perform Pan-Africanism is proving fortuitous. The Presidency has reported that leaders of the states visited by the envoys have relayed their “expressed appreciation” and their “concern” of the “irresponsible use of social media by certain individuals to create confusion and tension in the public mind”. Ramaphosa further announced his invitation of former Presidents, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique to lead a fact-finding mission into the episode and to make recommendations to prevent future incidents. This approach extends to South Africa’s foreign policy a tested tactic of Ramaphosa, to lead after bringing a diverse group of stakeholders around the same table. This consensus-driven approach masters a situation, affords legitimacy to practice and instructs future action.

South Africa’s shuttle diplomacy to dispel negative African perceptions forms a foundational part of the new government’s strategy. According to Minister Pandor, South Africa’s foreign policy “will reiterate the centrality of the African continent…(and) focus increasingly on economic diplomacy”. In his special sitting of Parliament, Ramaphosa affirmed solidarity with the continent. He claimed:“our fortunes are linked to those of our fellow African nations…rather than retreating into a laager, we must embrace African integration and the benefits it will bring”. This charge not simply rejects animosity, it effectively drives engagement and concomitant benefits. This is confirmed by the president’s very next comment addressing the recently signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement. The Agreement, says Ramaphosa: “will fundamentally reshape the economies of our continent, and we need to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that will be created”. Pandor’s address to the General Assembly further stressed the significance of the Agreement: “it will unleash Africa’s economic potential and consolidate its position as a new frontier of new economic growth and development”.

South Africa’s public diplomacy charge takes place at a time of strategic opportunity. It currently serves its first of two years as a non-permanent member to the United Nations Security Council. Here it insists that it represents the entire continent and the African Union. In 2020, for the first time since 2003, South Africa will also assume the chair the African Union. Its displays in 2019 are strategically laying the foundation for its advance, in 2020 and beyond.

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Africa

Violence in North and West Africa increasingly targeting civilian and border areas

MD Staff

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Violence in North and West Africa is increasingly targeting civilian and border regions as today’s conflicts involve non-state actors with diverging agendas, according to a new report by the OECD’s Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC).

The report uses granular data to assess the intensity and geographical distribution of violence in the region since 1997. It finds that the last five years have been the most violent recorded in North and West Africa, with more than 60,000 people killed between January 2015 and the end of 2019. More than 40% of violent events and fatalities occur within 100 km of a land border, and 10% of deaths from political violence occur less than 10 km from a border. Civilians are increasingly specific targets of violence, rather than just being caught in cross fire.

The report uses a “Spatial Conflict Dynamics Indicator” to show which regions of North and West Africa experience the most conflict, how conflicts evolve geographically over time and how military interventions affect the intensity and spread of violence. It notes that attempts to stabilise the region are complicated due to the number of players involved and their shifting alliances.

“Paying close attention to the geography and dynamics of these deadly conflicts and the complex interactions between the large numbers of actors involved may help to find ways to resolve this worsening insecurity,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, presenting the report at the Munich Security Conference.

The Sahara-Sahel region is suffering from exceptional levels of political instability involving a combination of rebellions, jihadist insurgencies, coups d’état, protest movements and illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and migrants. Conflicts tend to regionalise across borders as armed groups defeated by counter-insurgency efforts relocate to other countries. The geographic spread and opportunistic relocation of conflicts is exacerbated by a lack of controls on many African borders that facilitates the circulation of fighters, hostages and weapons.

The study calls for states in the region and the international community to promote regional initiatives to restore state legitimacy, increase investment in border regions and improve protection of civilians — creating secure regions where inclusive forms of policies are put in place and a strong dialogue between states, local actors and populations is reinforced.

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Russia’s interest in South Sudan

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On January 27-29, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan, Awut Deng Acuil, made an official working visit to Moscow where she held diplomatic talks focused on strengthening economic cooperation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

She is a South Sudanese politician and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation since August 2019. For the first time, Awut Deng Acuil was visiting Moscow – this made it more meaningful and significant to discuss ways of moving forward with relations and comprehensive development of cooperation with the Russian Federation. Russia and South Sudan already signed a Memorandum of Consultations between both Foreign Ministries last October 2019 in Sochi, during the first Russia-Africa Summit.

“There is potential for expanding trade and economic cooperation, including in such areas as energy, construction, development of automobile, railway and pipeline infrastructure, and agriculture. One of the promising areas of bilateral cooperation is the development of the fuel and energy complex in South Sudan. A number of projects with Russian participation are already being implemented,” according to the media report released before the official talks held January 28.

“We have discussed the prospects of bilateral cooperation, first of all, with an emphasis on the development of its economic cooperation. We informed our colleagues about the Russian companies working in the oil and gas, infrastructure, railway and transport sectors that are ready to discuss possible mutually beneficial projects with our South Sudanese partners,” Lavrov said at the media briefing after their closed diplomatic talks.

Back in 2016, Russia and South Sudan also signed the Intergovernmental Agreement on Military Technical Cooperation, which is still effective. Both have agreed to use this sphere of cooperation in order to strengthen security and military capability of South Sudan, only after the United Nations Security Council lifts finally its restrictions on weapons trade with that country.

South Sudan, a landlocked country located in the east-central Africa, is making efforts for further recognition and climb onto a global stage. Africa gaining its independence in July 2011, to become the 55th African state, it has suffered ethnic violence and endured civil war since 2013.

The United States supported the 2011 referendum on South Sudan’s independence. The New York Times reported that “South Sudan is in many ways an American creation, carved out of war-torn Sudan in a referendum largely orchestrated by the United States, its fragile institutions nurtured with billions of dollars in American aid.”

The U.S. government’s long-standing sanctions against Sudan were officially removed from applicability to newly independent South Sudan in December 2011, and senior South Sudanese officials participated in a high-level international engagement conference in Washington, D.C., to help connect foreign investors with the RSS and South Sudanese private sector representatives

South Sudan has a population of 12 million, and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. It, however, exports timber to the international market. The region contains many natural resources, but as in many other developing countries, the economy is heavily dependent on agriculture.

It has the third-largest oil reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, after South Sudan became an independent nation in July 2011, southern and northern negotiators were not immediately able to reach an agreement on how to split the revenue from these southern oilfields.

It is estimated that South Sudan has around four times the oil deposits of Sudan. The oil revenues, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), were split equally for the duration of the agreement period. Since South Sudan relies on pipelines, refineries, and Port Sudan‘s facilities in Red Sea state in Sudan, the agreement stated that the government of Sudan in Khartoum would receive a 50% share of all oil revenues.

South Sudan is attracting many foreign players. But currently, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is a major investor in South Sudan’s oil sector. It is under pressure to diversify away from oil as oil reserves will likely halve by 2020 if no new finds are made, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Abraham Telar Kuc, a postgraduate researcher on Diplomacy and International Relations at the Institute of Peace, Development and Security Studies, University of Juba, and currently with South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, suggests South Sudan officials take advantage of the strategic geo-political location, especially use its membership of different international and regional political cooperation and economic integration blocs, to improve the economy.

More recently, economic partnership, in general, is gaining momentum in direct foreign investments through bilateral and multilateral relations. India is investing limitedly in South Sudan oil sector through India’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission. In addition, Indian companies are investing in the ICT, pharmaceuticals and medical services, finance and banking, housing and construction sectors. India companies such as Reliance Industries, Tata Group, Bajaj Group, Bharti Airtel Communications and others are making forays into the economy, according to Abraham Telar Kuc.

Abraham told Modern Diplomacy: “Soviet Union offered enormous support for liberation and pro-independence movements including those in South Sudan. We are glad that Russians are waking up for investments and existing economic opportunities in Africa, returning to the African arena and moving into new investment opportunities there. As influential government officials and businesspeople have expressed interest, it’s necessary to make sure that they get access to South Sudan.”

Russia and Africa have a long history relationship based on mutual trust, and are lined-up on the principles of equality and mutual respect. In recent years, strategic communications have intensified and are developing in various directions. Moscow has repeatedly indicated that it supports the principle “African solutions to African problems” formulated by the African countries.

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The children’s Continent: Keeping up with Africa’s growth

MD Staff

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The world’s population is growing, but it is in Africa where this challenge is particularly acute. We know Africa as the place where human life began – a place with an ancient and noble history, but today it is also a place that is becoming home to more children than any other place on earth. Already, 77% of population is below age of 35.

For many decades the enormous populations of South America, Europe and Asia have grown quickly, but today they have slowed, and the majority of their populations are adults. In India the average age is 29, in China it is even older, at 37. But in Africa, the average age is 19 years old and rapidly getting younger. The continent is growing so quickly that by halfway through this century, it will be home to one billion children. By 2050, two in every five children in the world will be born here.

This is going to present a unique challenge. Graça Machel has warned: “Even though our youth have the potential to transform Africa, if neglected, they could exacerbate poverty and inequality while threatening peace, security and prosperity”. Therefore, we must be proactive in ensuring we meet the needs of this burgeoning population.

But this flourishing of exciting new generations presents acute challenges. Evolving in tandem with this exponential population growth is a rate of urbanisation in Sub-Saharan Africa that is unmatched in the rest of the world.

Africa’s urban population is expected to nearly triple by 2050, to 1.34 billion. Coupled with a high rate of urban primacy in African countries (whereby one city is multiple times bigger than the next nearest) and the high number of mega cities, enormous stress is going to be placed on the physical, political, economic and societal infrastructure in these places.

Young people across the continent are increasingly migrating towards the modern technology, connectivity, and entrepreneurial opportunity of city life. Poverty, lack of resources and financial independence are simultaneously pushing them away from their rural lives.

Urbanisation is being driven by rural-urban migration, but city planners and management are not always prepared. Growth rates are unplanned, unregulated and beyond their ability to control. The problems manifest quickly from this point. High levels of unemployment lead to high levels of informal employment, which in turn is improperly taxed, denying vital financial capital to the state. Physical infrastructure is unable to keep pace, leading to overcrowding and informal accommodation. Waste management is unable to keep up, bringing its own environmental dangers.

SDG 11 has the stated goal of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. While progress has undoubtedly been made on this, there is a great need to act fast to guarantee the last part of this goal: sustainability. The environmental impact at local, national and international scale is at high risk, with rapidly-growing urban populations demanding instant solutions. We have seen innovative ideas spring from the continent already, such as Diamniadio in Senegal, Tatu City in Kenya, or Vision City in Rwanda – but more is needed.

It would be possible to talk at great length on the issues, and how one enables the next, creating a vortex of seemingly never-ending challenges. But we should view these challenges with resolve and see the opportunities that lie ahead.

Yes, Africa is facing some of the toughest challenges in the world right now. But it is also in Africa that we are seeing some of the most innovative, forward thinking ideas when it comes to tackling the issues.

It is in Africa where we can see the beginnings of the development of truly smart cities, with smarter infrastructure. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has given us unparalleled access to data analytics, providing us with real time solutions to real world problems, based on empirical data. We need to ensure we are making the most of this, driving smarter decision making.

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) believes that science, technology and innovation have been solving global challenges on how we build and maintain our cities since the very beginning of civilisation. Investing in science, technology and innovation is a key driver for growing urban populations creating sustainable cities and communities, thereby achieving SDG 11.

Cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. Affordable housing, safe & sustainable transport, mass migration, climate change and pollution affect us all, but those in the developing world experience these issues much more keenly due to weaker infrastructure.

IsDB has actively launched a science, technology and innovation fund to accelerate progress in cities worldwide. Transform is a $500 million fund for innovation and technology that provides seed money for start-ups and SMEs to facilitate economic and social progress in their respective cities and communities.

We will continue to drive our new development model that maximises our operating assets of $16 billion and subscribed capital of $70 billion to continue providing solutions to international infrastructure challenges.

financing investment Africa children population

The financing gap between what is required to achieve the SDGs versus the current level of investment

The challenges ahead of us require diverse, innovative solutions for the new generations in Africa. Already we can see young entrepreneurs taking the lead in their countries, but we need to be there to support them: helping develop human capital, nurturing the growth of science, technology and innovation in the journey towards the achievement of SDG 11.

Our energy must be focused – the size of the challenge offers little room for error – but we can look forwards with optimism that the solutions to the problems are taking root. We need to nurture and encourage them to flourish.

IsDB

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